Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40The Ford GT40 is perhaps the best-known American supercar – awesome on the road and unstoppable on the racetrack. It’s also the inspiration for the present-day Ford GT. Here’s where it all began…

Henry Ford II

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

The genesis of the original GT40 came from a dispute between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari. Ford had wanted to buy the Italian manufacturer in 1963, yet found Ferrari unwilling to step away from the Indianapolis 500, which would have placed the two marques in direct competition. The deal failed, and Henry Ford II directed his company to find a way to enact revenge on-track at Le Mans.

1964 Ford GT prototype

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

Ford initially courted Lola Cars, Lotus and Cooper for a partner to build its new Le Mans racer. Lola was eventually chosen, in part due to the fact the Lola Mk6 race car already made use of a Ford V8 engine. Lola donated two Mk6 chassis from its factory in Slough, while Ford set about creating a team to develop and build its new race machine.

1964 Ford GT prototype engine

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

The newly created Ford Advanced Vehicles team set about development of the GT40. Early prototypes made use of a mid-mounted 255 cubic inch (4.2-litre) Ford V8, while later cars would use a 289 cubic inch (4.7-litre) unit. Famously, the GT40 name came from the overall height of the car: just 40 inches.

1964 Ford GT40 Mk1 – Nürburgring 1,000km

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

Making their debut at the gruelling Nürburgring 1,000km in 1964, the driver pairing of Phil Hill and Bruce McLaren qualified second on the grid. However, a suspension failure meant the GT40 failed to finish the race. The 1964 Le Mans event would also prove disastrous, as all three cars entered failed to finish. And to rub salt in the wound, Ferrari won both races…

1965 Ford GT40 Mk1 – Daytona 2,000km

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

For 1965, Ford switched management of the GT40 to Carroll Shelby, following his successes with the Ford-powered Shelby Daytona Coupe. Victory came immediately, with a win for Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby at the Daytona 2,000km race, with Bob Bondurant and Richie Ginther taking third in a sister GT40. Yet the remainder of 1965 would prove fruitless, with no more wins for Ford.

1966 Ford GT40 Mk1 road car

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

Road versions of the GT40 soon rolled out of the factory, with the first example delivered to the US in early 1966. Although the Mk1 road cars had softer suspension, quieter exhausts and options such as air-conditioning and leather seats, they still featured a 335hp V8 engine. The car above was owned by the same family for nearly 40 years. Values today can top £4million.

1966 Ford GT40 Mk2Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

The Mk2 may have looked similar to its predecessor, but there were numerous changes beneath the bodywork. In came a 427 cubic inch (7.0-litre) Ford FE engine, with an exhaust system nicknamed ‘a bundle of snakes’ for its elaborate design. A strengthened gearbox was also used, featuring just four speeds instead of the five found in the Mk1. Finishing 1-2-3-5 in the ’66 Daytona 24 Hours proved the changes were a good move, and set Ford on the path to glory.

1966 Ford GT40 Mk2 ‘X-1’ roadster

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

Initially created for Bruce McLaren Racing in 1965 with a low-drag windscreen, on return to Ford the one-off roadster was updated to Mk2 specification for Shelby American. Its only race event came at the 1966 12 Hours of Sebring where, after experimenting with automatic gearboxes during practice, a manual transmission was fitted for the race. When the engine of the lead GT40 Mk2 seized, the X-1 Roadster of Miles and Ruby slipped through to victory.

1966 24 Hours of Le Mans

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

After years of frustration, 1966 would finally deliver the success Henry Ford II had been seeking. While Ferrari floundered as reliability issues struck the 330 P3, Ford took a dominant 1-2-3 finish. The result was not without controversy, though, thanks to Ford’s decision to stage a photo finish. Ken Miles, upset at a lack of recognition for his dedication to the GT40 project, deliberately slowed down to let the car of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon take the win.

1967 Ford GT40 MkIII road car

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

As the GT40 race car was cleaning up on track, a bespoke road-going version was being readied. Unlike previous street-legal GT40s, the MkIII had specific features to make it suited to the highway. An elongated rear gave access to a luggage compartment, while the bumpers gained small chrome overriders. Unlike the race cars, there was no bigger engine, with power still coming from the 289 cubic inch (4.2-litre) V8. Only seven examples of the MkIII were built, with just three in right-hand drive.

1967 Ford GT40 J-car

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

Despite the success of the MkII GT40, Ford didn’t rest on its laurels and set about developing the car even further. With power now sufficient, experimental aerodynamic changes to maximise the muscle were made throughout 1966 and 1967, along with a lightened chassis. Tragedy struck during a test session, when famed driver Ken Miles was killed in a high-speed accident at Riverside International Raceway, with blame laid at the lack of downforce from the aero modifications.

1967 Ford GT40 MkIV

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

The experimental flat-topped roof of the J-car was dropped, but the resulting MkIV still managed to look distinctive. Lengthened and streamlined to achieve a higher top speed, the MkIV also had a lightened chassis. The death of Ken Miles was not in vain, with a high-strength roll cage also being fitted. Although the MkIV only entered two races, it claimed a 100% success rate, with victories in the 1967 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

1968 Ford GT40 Mk1 Le Mans

Racing in the blood: the story of the Ford GT40

Concerned by the high speeds seen during the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, the FIA capped engine sizes at 5.0-litres for cars in the Sports class in 1968. This ruled out the MkII and MkIV versions of the GT40, but meant the earlier, smaller-engined Mk1 was still eligible. Now with reliability on its side, the Mk1 took overall victory in 1968, driven by Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi. It would repeat the same feat in 1969 with Jackie Ickx and Jackie Oliver driving, taking the total number of outright Le Mans wins for the GT40 to four in a row.

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